Sometimes I like to quote obscure works of great men, so that everyone knows that I am well read. My favorite work of C.S. Lewis is A Grief Observed, his story of losing his wife, that few seem to know about. The raw and honest portrait of a brilliant mind, traveling the same path of grief as the rest of us, is a breathtaking literary experience.
But with Henri, my heart was won with perhaps the most famous quote of his most famous work, Clowning In Rome...
"Clowns are not in the center of the events. They appear between the great acts, fumble and fall, and make us smile again after the tensions created by the heroes we came to admire. The clowns don't have it together, they do not succeed in what they try to do, they are awkward, out of balance, and left-handed, but . . . they are on our side. We respond to them not with admiration but with sympathy, not with amazement but with understanding, not with tension but with a smile. Of the virtuosi we say, 'How can they do it?' Of the clowns we say, 'They are like us.' The clowns remind us with a tear and a smile that we share the same weaknesses."
— Henri Nouwen in Clowning In Rome
Rethinking Imitation - What do our stories tell the world?
“When the imitation of Christ does not mean to live a life like Christ, but to live your life as authentically as Christ lived his, then there are many ways and forms in which a man can be a Christian.”
-Henri in The Wounded Healer
There is no understanding God...
“Theological formation is the gradual and often painful discovery of God's incomprehensibility. You can be competent in many things, but you cannot be competent in God.”
Giving our lives...
“Ministry means the ongoing attempt to put one's own search for God, with all the moments of pain and joy, despair and hope, at the disposal of those who want to join this search but do not know how.”
Keeping an eternal perspective… Hebrews 11:13-16
“The leaders of the future will be those who dare to claim their irrelevance in the contemporary world as a divine vocation…”
“Our lives are unique stones in the mosaic of human existence -- priceless and irreplaceable.”
-Henri in The Life Of The Beloved
On living as the Beloved...
“Over the years, I have come to realize that the greatest trap in our life is not success, popularity, or power, but self-rejection. Success, popularity, and power can indeed present a great temptation, but their seductive quality often comes from the way they are part of the much larger temptation to self-rejection. When we have come to believe in the voices that call us worthless and unlovable, then success, popularity, and power are easily perceived as attractive solutions. The real trap, however, is self-rejection. As soon as someone accuses me or criticizes me, as soon as I am rejected, left alone, or abandoned, I find myself thinking, "Well, that proves once again that I am a nobody." ... [My dark side says,] I am no good... I deserve to be pushed aside, forgotten, rejected, and abandoned. Self-rejection is the greatest enemy of the spiritual life because it contradicts the sacred voice that calls us the "Beloved." Being the Beloved constitutes the core truth of our existence.”
More than Henri’s words inspired us, remember that Henri inspired us the most with his life. Much like Christ who emptied himself of his divinity, Henri gave up the trappings of fame, to give himself to the most vulnerable and weak among us at the L'Arche communities.
There are not many people that I will seek out in heaven after seeing Jesus, but Henri, I think, will make the list. After greeting loved ones, and maybe a few biblical celebrities, I will say, "…But, where is Henri?” And I like to imagine that they will point me to the most baseless job in heaven (if such a thing exists)… You know, whatever their equivalent to cleaning toilets is, and I will thank him. I will thank him for his sacred message to the church and to me. I will thank him for his words on Community, Celibacy, and Solitude. I will thank him not for writing it, but for living it...